Wednesday, December 25, 2002

The Miami Herald | Oil chief promises big changes

Venezuela's chief oil official, Ali Rodríguez, said Tuesday that he would begin a series of sweeping changes -- including worker layoffs and the hiring of foreign specialists -- in response to the national strike that has battered the state-owned oil company for most of the month.

Rodríguez saved his most bitter remarks for the oil executives he says are leading the strike and trying, in his eyes, to use oil to take over the country.

He said he had suspended several striking oil executives and that the government was preparing to sue some of the strike leaders for $1.3 billion in damages done to the oil company and, in some cases, pursue criminal prosecutions.

''I would say, in the month of January, we will have completely normalized the flow,'' he said. ``I'm talking about the exports of crude. It will take time to restart the wells and to equip the plants.''

BBC Opposing Protests Mark Christmas in Venezuela

Strikers brandished images of the Nativity, while the president's followers dressed in Santa Claus costumes to drum up support for their leftist leader.

"Long Live Chavez, ho, ho, ho!" the Santas chanted, as they showered children with sweets and gifts around the presidential palace and the headquarters of the firm PDVSA, which has been virtually paralysed by the stoppage.

President Chavez went on TV cradling a model of a baby Jesus in his arms.

He wished "all Venezuelans" a Merry Christmas of "infinite tenderness and love".

The opposition Mass was held in an avenue in the wealthy eastern part of the capital to the tolling of church bells.

Opposition demonstrators were reportedly planning to hold "cacerolazo" marches - in which pots and pans are banged to make as much noise as possible - nationwide at midnight.

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